Most of the conversation was drowned out by the music and the fans, but seven words suddenly rose above the racket: “Man, I really fucking love this new record!” A few days earlier, Miles and his producer, Nxfce (pronounced “no face”), released a new alt-R&B single, “Bad Habits.” In fact, when we met a week later, at a Starbucks in Oakland, Miles was still singing its praises. “I’m really pushing this song,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of it.”
Miles isn’t the only fan. The tune was recently featured on a Spotify playlist called Fresh Finds. It received 60,000 listens — in one day. (It currently has more than 80,000.) Miles was psyched by the reception the song got, but he wasn’t surprised. He predicted the song “would be big” during the Starbucks chat. After all, it’s part of the detailed plan that the 21-year-old musician has laid out for himself.
Raised by a single mother in Chicago, he moved to Washington, D.C., at age 11. He started his music career playing bass guitar in bands. At age 16, he started taking lessons to learn the six-string, and began singing and writing music during his senior year in high school. He came to the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 and, along with Tory Hains, his dorm’s resident assistant, he won Pitt’s annual hip-hop contest that year. The pair then got the opportunity to open for hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco. It was his first show, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Miles began concentrating full time on his music; his grades fell from As and Bs to much worse than As and Bs. He spent about 18 months working on a 10-song mixtape, Blue, and by the end of his sophomore year, he decided to take a long hiatus from school. But just because he’s not in school doesn’t mean he’s without direction. It’s quite the opposite, actually.
“My plan isn’t to go back to school if things take off,” Miles says. “My plan now is to go back on the house circuit until the summer and then start opening up for acts, just getting my name out there. So, the Blue mixtape was me finding my lane. My next EP, Vintage, is me laying the foundation and refining my sound. I’m also collaborating with Nxfce on an EP. The whole strategy is to keep building on what I have, and by summer 2018, I want to be well established on the college circuit and then move to Los Angeles, maybe sign with an indie label.”
These are just the broad strokes of Miles’ plan. He has every minute detail planned out.
“I think if you decide to drop out of college to be a musician, you need to be meticulous in your planning,” he says. “At least that’s how I have to approach it.
“I have to be all in. Right now, I have my job; I go there, I do my work, and when I’m done, it’s all music all the time.”
So far, things are going well. Aside from playing house shows and opening for GZA at the Rex, Miles also opened for GZA in D.C., a few days after the Pittsburgh show. In fact, CP heard of Miles after a rep for the Wu-Tang lyricist told us that GZA had heard Miles’ music, become a fan and asked him to open.
Miles is a melodic artist who embraces the alt-R&B genre popularized at the start of the decade by artists like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. There’s more than just soul in the music; it is also influenced by rock, EDM and hip hop. Miles counts Ocean and The Weeknd among his influences, but says there are too many contemporary artists who aren’t doing anything to advance the genre. Miles’ music isn’t dark and angst-filled but subtly sexy, thanks to his lyrics and the raw quality to his voice. His vocals put a modern spin on classic R&B style, and his beats have a contemporary feel.
“The problem is, after The Weeknd, you have all of these artists, and yeah, fuck it, I’ll call out names, like Roy Woods, 24hrs and Majid Jordan, who are turning out these dark, moody R&B songs that are just very uninspired,” Miles says. “It’s not fresh. There’s a lot of Auto-Tune, because it’s a lot of people who can kind of sing, but not really. It’s just the same kind of shit.
“They’re just trying to recreate what The Weeknd had, but you can’t because it’s already happened. You have to grow upon it; be inspired by the moodiness or the lyrics, but add something new to it. I have to make sure that I don’t fall into that same trap.”
When Miles first started playing guitar and writing his own music, he was inspired by melody and beats. Even when he was covering artists, he never looked up stems, he put his own spin on the music. He went online and immersed himself in different beats and instrumentals, and in the process discovered his own sound.
“Look at artists who are popular now, like The Weeknd before he got big, Young Thug, Drake and Miguel, it’s all melody,” Miles says. “Now, working with Nxfce, I go in, we listen to beats, jam and play off the instrumental and when it’s right, you just feel it.
“It’s a very organic process, not a technical one. Creating music this way makes it a lot easier for me to know what’s good and what isn’t.”